Category Archives: Current Shows

Dog-Napping Highlights Print Media Issues

I came across a cute story the other day in the Hamilton Spectator. Cute because it was about an animal rescue, important because it highlighted how much trouble traditional media is in, in terms of its survival in an internet enabled world.

The initial story is how this gal goes shopping at a plaza, and when she returns to her car, it’s gone with her dog in the back seat: Holy dog-napping batman.

This where things get interesting. The dog has a GPS tracking system built into his collar, so Mon calls dad who has the tracking software installed on his system, and they are able to locate both the car and the dog, or so you would think.

Close but no cigar. Because the car and dog were stolen in Hamilton, drove through several regions and eventually ended up at the Six Nations near Branford, there is a question as to has jurisdiction and the responsibility to collar the bad guys.

In my mind’s eye is see a combination of the Keystone Cops meet Dudley Do-right of the Mounties, with possibly a dash of Mr. Magoo thrown in for more confusion.

The story does have a happy ending. Mom calls junior who hops into his car, connects with the local police where the car was tracked to, starts a search for the stolen car, and eventually finds it in a wooded area with Fido patiently waiting in the back seat. Dog is fine, the car has some damage from the adventure, but basically, the escapade is over… almost.

The story is picked up by Hamilton Spectator, but mom makes it clear that she doesn’t not want to be identified. I mean after all, she’s just been through a very traumatic event, and who needs all the attention that a story would bring, and no doubt questions about why she would leave a dog in her car while shopping at the mall, to say nothing of the questions that would be raised as to why the cops couldn’t jump on this crime quickly and possibly apprehend the crooks.

Anyway, the newspaper decides to kill the story because they feel that running too many stories with unidentified names and sources would hurt their credibility. Poor babies. Too much news to print. Hey team, have a look over your shoulder. The huge massive onslaught coming up behind you is called the internet where every man, woman and child on the planet is rapidly being empowered to find and report on all sorts of news stories. The time is at hand where traditional media has to expand and adjust to tailor their content to reflect the presence and potential of the internet. Think not? Another story in the same paper was how the Toronto Star just laid off three hundred workers to remain financially competitive.

Obviously some rational intelligence at the Spectator did see a way to get this story in print, so maybe there is still some hope for the print media.

XBMC: Setting Expectations

We are continuing our look at XBMC or if your will, X-Box Media Centre. Today we are going to have a look at setting expectations.

Probably the number one question you would have to ask is why would you consider adding this sort of application to your entertainment portfolio?

The answer is simple. First of all, it dramatically expands the volume of content that you can access. If you look at your basic cable services, you can watch a very limited number of movies, most network programming and of course local news and weather.  The cost for this runs somewhere around $60 per month. Add on top of that upgrades to the various movie networks, a couple of specialty channels and all of a sudden, your bill jumps to around $100 per month.

Now consider XBMC and what is available. A quick scan through the movie menuing system suggests that there are about 2-hundred thousand movies available. You can access everything from current films running in theaters, to upcoming blue-ray releases, and a massive supply of classic movies. In more realistic terms, you could watch 5 movies per day forever, and never get to today’s current releases.

In terms of traditional network shows and local news, virtually all of the broadcasters have embarked on a program of connecting mobile viewers by posting their shows on their web sites and encouraging people to watch. There are all available on XBMC.

Another program category that is in fairly high demand is specialty channels. Once again, if it’s on a TV system anywhere; it’s probably available through XBMC, and in High Definition.

One program category that abounds on XBMC that is not available on television is that of the independent producer with no network affiliation. This category of shows is quickly mobilizing and starting to deliver high volumes of content, and offering very specialized information.

In fact, look for independent producers to step up and fill the void that the Canadian government has generated by allowing the massive consolidation of ownership in broadcasting which has eliminated local content from massive portions of this country.

And the cost of all this? Just the cost of the internet connection that you use, probably around $60 per month and dropping.

Because the content delivery services traditionally have been granted near monopoly licenses from the government, they have had no need to compete for customers and have long treated both content providers and customers like well, borrowing an expression from Coronel Potter in MASH, treated them like horse puckey. Now that alternate delivery vehicles are available, it’s unlikely that they will wake up and smell the coffee, and will probably end up like Blackberry, not so quietly just fading away.

Google Maps: Room For Improvement

We have been talking about Google Maps and their traffic system, but talk is cheap, so we took the app out on a road trip, and found out that things are not quite as promised. In order to give the app a true workout, we took a day trip across the busiest highways in North America, first in morning rush hour going one way, and returning back during the afternoon rush, reversing our trip.

Because we wanted to really give the system a workout, we chose a route that offered every challenge in modern driving, selecting highways with High Occupancy Lanes, which generally are much faster, express and collector lanes, where you can make adjustments to your path, and during peak traffic periods may offer time saving options to your daily commute, and several highway options, any of which on any one day can make a big difference in your overall travel time.

So we hopped in the car near Hamilton Ontario at 8 AM, just to make sure that we would be in heavy traffic, the two of us, one driver and one GPS operator. We programmed Google maps with a destination in Markham, so we have to cross the entire city of Toronto.

It didn’t take long to realize that we had problems. As soon as we programmed in the destination, we lost the traffic flow information. After several tests and re-programming, we concluded that Google had to leave some opportunity for third party developers to take Google data and apply it to a pay as you play applications. We forged forward, switching between traffic flow and navigation, but ultimately concluded that what we really wanted was a better app which would both navigate and factor in traffic flow.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Because we didn’t want to spend any money for the GPS app, we did a little searching and found an one called Waze, which claims to be one of the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. You can hookup with other drivers in your area and share real-time traffic and road info. I’m always open to new concepts, so a quick install, a bit to eat before we started on our two hour sojourn back across Toronto through afternoon traffic back to Hamilton.

My god, what a surprise, I’d accidently discovered the next generation of GPS programs. Waze takes specific data from other Waze users who are travelling in proximity to you, shows their location on your GPS system, with their vehicle speed and the opportunity to post both text messages and pics, which all the other users can see on the GPS screen. Beyond that, if your vehicle should stop, Waze asks you why, an accident, heavy traffic, whatever, and prompts you to send out a message.  Waze also lets you post road construction information, gas prices and other data which can make your trip faster and cheaper.

The real question test of any GPS system is how well did it navigate your trip. When we pulled onto the highway, the estimated time for the entire trip was 1 hour 32 minutes; it ultimately took 1 hour 48 minutes.  Not bad given that the worst of rush hour didn’t start till we were 45-minutes in to the trip. Waze successfully moved us between the collectors and express lanes on the 401, so we always were in the fastest set of lanes, and on several occasions, we saw text messages from other users who were ahead of us on the highway.

There is a pile of other features that Waze does, so I’ve added a link on the script page for this video.

By the way two down strokes. Waze reverses the concept of distracted driving. Using this app to it’s fullest is more like distracted GPS operation, so it’s best to be a passive observer is you are the driver, and this little puppy is a real battery drainer, so if your trip is of any length, plug in your charger before you start.

iPhone Users vs Android Users

There’s a battle line developing in the technology market, that personally, I’m just plain sick of. It’s the “which smartphone is better, Apple or Android?”

iPhone users around the world just had threw up their defensive shield, and are preparing to defend their turf to the last dollar in their bank account. And that’s OK, because I really don’t care.

The truth of the matter is I really don’t like my phone, but have come to learn that it’s the best one I own, and if I were to jump ship from Samsung to iPhone, I would be no further ahead.

You see, I really don’t care that I have a billion pixels in my camera, that there are 100-trillion apps available, how pretty the case is or whether I was the first person in town to actually own one.

What I care about is that when I go to make a call, that I easily connect to my provider, that the people I call can easily hear me, and I them. I care that the battery lasts a long time, I care that I can read the screen and I care what it costs to keep the whole thing working every month.

Do I care if Apple is better than Samsung? No, not at all. Here’s how it works in my mind. My phone remains in use till after it’s finished it’s contract and till it dies or there is some other “must have” new or upgraded feature that I just have to have. When I switched from Blackberry to the Galaxy S2, it was because we needed a new phone for a staff member, so I got the S2, and they got my old phone. Later, I jumped to the S4 2-years after my contract expired because my wife needed a replacement phone, and Samsung was just launching S4, with LTE, which in my mind was a significant feature. So we ended up with 2 new phones, purchases made on price, both with LTE, and I love it, my Samsung more so that the Nexus 4.

The real story about smartphones is what’s happening in the global market, because god is on the side of the heavy artillery.

The most recent data from IDC shows that for Q3 of 2013 Android made up 81 percent of devices shipped. That’s right, four out of every five smartphones shipped in Q3 were built on Android. Meanwhile, Apple’s iOS scraped by with a sad and distant second place figure of only 12.9 percent

On the other side of the coin, Apple during that same period—Q3 of 2013—Apple made more money than all of its competitors combined, taking in 56 percent of the profit in the mobile device market.

This is where I become a little paranoid. If Apple is making 56% of the profits with 12% of unites shipped, then it has to be that Apple users are paying 4 times more for their toy than I am for my Android.

And thank you very much; I would just prefer to keep my money in my pocket than watching Apple celebrate huge profits.



Police expand the use of technology to collect car licence plates.

I want to pass on some information that may have a significant impact on all of us. It has to do with an announcement from the provincial police in Ontario who will be dramatically expanding a program that uses technology to capture the licence plate numbers from vehicles that such equipped cursers pass. Each curser is capable of scanning 3600 plates per hour. Assuming that a police car is on the road 6-hours per shift, and three shits per day, and with a total of 31-vehicles, that being the four current cars plus 27 new ones, Big Brother will be capable of checking on 2-million per day. Ontario’s population is 13-million, so for ease of calculation, say ½ of the people have a car, then the police will grab your plate every 2.5 days. Wow. There is some good news. Police say that plates not associated with a “watch” list are deleted in 10-minutes. Now that you’re feeling nice and secure knowing that you have no outstanding fines, that you haven’t skipped a bail hearing and your driver’s licence hasn’t been suspended for anything, you have to ask “what else are police watching for?”. What happens if someone with your same last name is on the list? Will you be stopped? And with this kind of technology, just where do my personal rights to privacy end up? Good questions. The explanation from police is that this increased surveillance will make our society safer. Drivers who have lost their licenses will be more easily identified and taken into custody, people without proper plates will be more efficiently dealt with, and there will much joy and happiness everywhere, except possibly in the realms of those avoiding the police. Here’s my problem. Are the police so focused on their jobs that the collected plate information could not be used for other purposes, like stocking the x-partners, being x-wives, lovers, husbands? Given that cases like this have gone before the courts, the answer would have to be yes. There was a case a few years ago where an office was killed, a situation that nobody wants see to happen. It was in a motor vehicle accident. We received reports that the other driver involved, who did nothing wrong, eventually had to move far away because he started receiving an extremely high number of traffic stops and tickets, with some suggesting that he was targeted by other officers to seek some lever of retribution for the death of their friend. What happens down the road if the government decides that people with green eyebrows should be incarcerated? The system for mass collection of people and their current locations would already in place. I do feel that new technologies need to be deployed, ensuring that society will be a much safer place. But I also feel that we need to strengthen the rules surrounding the mass harvesting of that information, possibly offering some level of separation from those charged with the enforcement of law. Stepping out on a slippery slope has led more than one country down the path to destruction.  

XBMC Update: Hardware

Hardware Update for Using XBMC

I wanted to bring you an update XBMC. We initially did a piece on this software couple of months ago where we talked about its impact in the marketplace. Since we initially started using the package,  we’ve made several changes to the system with some very positive results.

When we first started, we were using a an old computer connected to a digital television via the VGA video port. To connect the sound we were using the audio output from the computer and plugging it into one of the analog inputs on the home theater amplifier.

I can only describe this combination as delivering an adequate picture and sound quality. Given that we were still in the testing stages of the software, to see if we really would enjoy it or not, we ultimately decided to take the steps to permanently include the system into our home theater and upgrade the quality of both the audio and the video. The first upgrade  we made was to install a digital sound card in to the computer so  we could use the digital outputs and connected to the digital input on the amplifier so we could listen in 5.1 surround sound. We had real issues in getting this to work, mostly in activating the digital port on the computer itself. Another problem we ran into with this configuration was that our home theater was set up using our Denon amplifier to switch the audio and video sources through an HDMI connection. The problem here was that every time we wanted to use the VGA input for the television, we had to use the TV remote to select the VGA input and then switch the amplifier to listening to the analog source from the computer. Too many buttons for less technical members of the family to press this much back and forth between the two sources.

Just before Christmas, we found a sale on video cards were we were able to buy a video card with an HDMI output for about $20 Canadian. We installed this card into the computer, and connected it to the Denon amplifier by the HDMI cable, and lo and behold we had video quality equivalent to anything we were getting off of our blue Ray DVD player or from our digital cable box.

The switching over from the video port from the computer to the HDMI in the home theater , has greatly enhanced our ability and enjoyment of Xbox media center. Now anybody in the family by simply selecting the appropriate source on the amplifier enabling them switch quickly between any sources available to the system. As a result of these changes were now watching about 80% of our television from Xbox media Center and about 20% from our cable TV box. We would be completely off of using cable TV except for the fact that our local news is not fully available on the Internet. There is a add-on on Xbox media Center which carries the local news, but it only picks up the news portions and none of the feature segments bundled into the newscast. We really enjoy the consumer report and health reports as well as our local weather, so we find to be better to watch the news from the cable TV source rather than from the Internet.

The other thing that we have found using XBMC more regularly, is at the movies available are phenomenal. Before I go into the detail on the movies that we been finding, I’d like to point out that there’s a lot of useless add-on modules which we initially installed which we decided to delete from the menuing system. We pretty much limited ourselves to three add-ons: mash up, Canada on demand, and navI-X which is located under the programming category.

In terms of using the mash up add-on, under the category of new, were finding movies are actually available prior to release a movie theaters. Not just camera copies, but DVD rips and screeners, which deliver excellent quality.  I’m not sure what the legalities of all this are, but one things for sure we’re certainly seeing a lot of movies a lot sooner than we would otherwise have access to them either from the peer to peer networks or from DVD rental stores.

Another little fact that you have to pay attention to, in terms of the growth of XBMC is the number of installs of the software that of happened. Google is reporting that so far there are almost 5,000,000 installs on the android platform alone. It’s hard to determine exactly how many people are using the software, but my best guess would be that it will be on a level equivalent to the customer base of DirecTV or any one of the Canadian cable companies.

Another little spin off the we discovered in our use of Xbox media Center was that it is a far better platform for viewing your own videos or pictures, and to listen to music on. This has resulted in us pretty much retiring our Western digital media player, and transferring all of our media files onto the computer that is connected to your home theater. Even in terms of looking at pictures sent to his by other family members, we find it far easier and better to watch them on the home theater than to go to somebody’s PC and lean over the other person shoulder to see the screen. As far as music goes it has a solid player built into the software and of course the audio quality is excellent coming to the HDMI hookup from the computer to the home theater.

We’ll keep you posted and other odd things that we find in using the software and keep you up-to-date on changes in the platform.

Problems of Distributing Music In Your Home

Want to play your own music at home? Here’s How

Now that we have the Christmas season safely in our rear view mirrors, a lot of people been asking me about what’s the best way to distribute music within your own home. Being a bit of a techie and also a radio station owner, I’ve had several ideas as to what the best approach to do this is.

The first thing is to actually define what it is you want to be doing in terms of distributing the music. The reason this is important is that there are really three or four different ways of approaching the problem pending on what it is you’re really looking for. If you’re looking just to listen to music on a small radio, and it’s capable of reading a USB memory stick, it’s simply a matter of putting the music on to the thumb drive, and inserted it into the radio. If you’re looking for something a little bit more sophisticated, you could set up a small server and then make the music available across your internal local area network. And finally, if you’re looking to have your music available on a large number of radios, some of which may be more technologically advanced, then possibly the real answer is to set up a small FM transmitter and broadcast your music throughout your house. You should really keep in mind that there are several laws that govern the use of broadcasting on the FM dial. Always a good idea to find out what you can and cannot do before you venture too far in any one direction.

The goal that I was looking for, wasn’t so much to have the music available on every radio, but rather to have every radio playing the same song at the same place at the same time, so as you walked around the house, room to room, you’d be hearing the same song at the same point everywhere.

My first thought was to set up the small server and distribute the music around the house by my local area network. The problem I ran into was the fact that the vast majority of servers today send out their information via unicast rather than multicast. The simple difference between the two is that in a unicast environment, every appliance picks up a separate feed from the server and then plays that feed. In a multicast environment, there is one continuous feed coming from the server that you simply listen to. Back in the mid-90s when I was first working with media servers, it was fairly common to have options to use both unicast and multicast services on anyone server. However, over time, unicast has become the dominant method of streaming music. If you want to check for yourself all you have to do is load a app like on both your smart phone and a tablet. Set both appliances to listen to the same radio station, and you’ll find out that the music is rarely at the same point coming out of both units. I have to confess that in terms of attempting to set this up, I spent a lot of time trying to get it to work but it simply just didn’t happen.

Being the owner of an FM radio station, I was quite aware that transmitting music on the FM band was a very efficient way of everybody being able to hear the same song at the same point at the same time. The problem that I had to solve was that of power. Radio stations run at up to 100,000 W in Canada and the United States. Both countries have regulations which govern who can broadcast and how much power they can use. To maintain compliance, you can purchase very small transmitters from retail stores which are designed to allow you to plug your smart phone into the device and transmit that signal a few feet to your car antenna or car radio. I knew this would be efficient way of distributing the music but had actually no idea of how I could build the range to cover the entire house. Over a period of time, and trying various connections and setups, I was eventually able to set up one of these devices so that it would deliver a fairly good stereo signal throughout the building. What I did was to plug the transmitter into the audio output from the device where the music was located. Generally speaking, the power cord for the transmitter is also the antenna for the transmitter. What I did was to wrap this power cord around the antenna I use in the basement of my house to pull in distant radio stations for my stereo. I took the wires that are the output from my antenna, and connected them into old cable TV wires that were not being used. I then went to each room in the house and connected each radio using a cable from the old cable TV jacks and connected it to the antenna on the various radios around the house that I wanted to listen to the music on.

It turned out to be a brilliant idea. Each radio in each room gets the same signal so that we hear the same music at the same point everywhere. The reason I wanted to do this, was that we were hosting various people for parties over the Christmas season, and we wanted to have Christmas music on all the time. The whole process worked really really well, but regrettably I think I was the only person who actually appreciated the sophistication of the solution.

Now that were comfortably past the Christmas season, I’ve converted the music we’re playing to my list of favorites, which I have to confess runs into the several thousands of songs. Another time we’ll talk about how to get the music to play in automation and the things that you can add to a player which can really improve the overall functionality of your home music system.

Copyright or Internet Scam?

Computer Insider Jan 14, 2014: Copyright or Internet Scam?

I was recently out to dinner with some friends of mine from University, and in the midst of our chitchat,a strange discussion came up. It seems that at least two of us had over the last several months fallen into the same, let’s call it trap, in terms of using the Internet.

Here’s what happened. Both of us were working on websites separately, and we both needed to have images to put on our WebPages. And I suppose like many people building websites we both went to Google images and search for pictures to insert onto our WebPages. Interestingly enough, both of us had assumed that the images that were being displayed from Google images, where the public domain. Turns out, that’s not the case.

I think it’s important at this point to let you that I am not a lawyer, and in no way attempting to offer you legal advice or direction. If you’re looking for best course of action in any legal matter, you should always consult with a lawyer who’s trained in these matters. That said, I’m a long-term user of the Internet and when something seems just plain wrong maybe, it’s time to part of the public consciousness.

At any rate, what happened was a short time after the webpage’s were actually posted on the Internet, each of us were contacted by an individual who claimed to be the copyright holder for those pictures. The letter I received was quite specific saying that the images were not part of the public domain, I had violated their copyright, and I had a financial obligation to the copyright holder. I found out from the other person at the dinner who would run into the same situation, that they had contacted him and demanded $600 in royalty payments. He contacted a lawyer who did advise him that there really is no whole lot you can do about it presuming that the person that sent the letter was in fact the copyright holder, he’s entitled to be compensated for his images.

What really bothered me about this whole situation was the fact that this appears to be a setup. Again I want to emphasize that this is just an opinion, but it does seem to me, to be very strange that somehow copyrighted material is being released into what some people believe is the public domain via Google, and that information is not only being used by unsuspecting people, but the people who hold the copyrights appear to have the technology to be able to scour the Internet and track down any people using those images and pursue them for compensation.

In fact, and again I have to point out that as far as I know, the person who holds the copyright of any material has the right to demand whatever payments they can, but in the real world of digital photography, and being a contributor to several libraries, compensation for any one picture is generally calculated in pennies not dollars let alone hundreds of dollars.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I’ve got the strange idea that what’s happened is that some people, possibly of less scrupulous thoughts, have produced a series of images, and coated them with some sort of tracking system, release them not necessarily in the public domain but released him to the Internet in such a way to lure unsuspecting users and has allowed them to be distributed by Google, and then to track down those images and pursue the people using them for what I would best describe as excessive royalty payments.

If this in fact is what’s happening, it would probably take make a fairly interesting argument in court that in fact the people who had leaked of those images onto the Internet, did so deliberately, concealing to some level the fact that the images are copyrighted, and have actually made this into a substantial business operation.

In my case, I explained that I was using the image because it was my understanding that it was part of the public domain. As it is always my intention to not violate other person’s copyrights, we immediately stop using the image and apologized for the misunderstanding. They did send an email to me saying that I owed the money but to this point in time there’s been no other correspondence whatsoever, so were presuming at this stage that there will be no claims, however, not being located in the United States, I would think will be a fairly expensive proposition for anyone to take somebody in this country to court, considering the probabilities of them being able to win a judgment in court and then subsequently collect any money in the process.

I wanted to let you know about this because I believe there are a lot of people who presume that images that they find on Google are royalty, and they can use them whenever and however they please. Knowing that there are others on the Internet, who appear to be in the business of distributing material and then actively pursuing compensation, may give you an opportunity to check for any notices of copyright, and time for you to consider what you would say if one day you received an email saying that you were in violation of copyrighted material.